As many readers know, of all the stories I have researched and written about the history of West Terre Haute, none has haunted me like the horrendous story of the kidnapping and murder of Edythmay Caroline Dierdorf. For those who have not read it, see the links at the end of this entry.
Over the years I have tried to piece together as much of the story as possible. It has not been easy. The Terre Haute police told me they had no records prior to 1950 in their files. I searched through 20 years of newspapers from around the country, sought out books on Sing Sing and crime in New York, scrolled through census records. Over the years members of Edythmay’s family have contacted me to offer what they could, but all said it was just something her parents and siblings did not wish to talk about.
It has been much harder to find any real information about her killer, Charles Russell Dow. About a month after the Edythmay stories appeared a woman contacted me to say that she believed Dow was her father, but her mother would never talk about it. She mentioned her mother getting a packet from a New York prison, but refusing to reveal what it was about. I arranged to call her, but there was no answer.
I spent about three years trying to get access to Dow’s prison records. During email and phone conversations I was told they did not have his records, or some just never bothered to reply (I consoled myself by knowing how busy and understaffed state archives are). About a month ago I made one more try and, to my surprise, received an immediate reply. The New York State Archives held four pages of Dow’s records. I arranged to get them sent to me. Four pages of bare prison records, but enough that I think I can put a little flesh on the bones of a serial pedophile and murderer.
Charles Russell Dow was born in Hamburg, NY on February 26, 1898 to an English immigrant father and American mother. He was a small child. He left school at age 14 having only completed the fourth grade. His mother died when he was 19. He had two younger brothers. From his later job history he must have been good at math. He likely took on odd jobs and became something of a drifter. I could find no draft or military records of service in WWI. Sometime in the mid-1920s he married a woman named Hazel from Connecticut. They had a daughter. He had his daughter with him when he came to Terre Haute and ugly fate brought him and little Edythmay on that Sunday, January 27th, 1929.
He had been travelling the Midwest buying and selling radios and other small items. He headed back to the Cleveland and Detroit areas after the murder, returning to Terre Haute briefly later to pick up his three-year daughter, whom he had left at a boarding house.
I believe he and Hazel might have settled in Detroit the year after Edythmay’s murder, where he worked as an office manager and accountant for a construction firm. By 1941 they had moved to a rural area around Silver Creek in upstate New York.
Just when Dow began his long terror reign as a pedophile is unknown. Edythmay was not his first victim. Dow had been briefly jailed for rape the previous year. How many more were there over the years? But it ended two days before Christmas, 1946. He was finally caught after a series of attempted abductions and abductions in Rochester and Batavia, NY. After being convicted of 2nd degree kidnapping, sodomy and assault, he was sentenced in Genesee County Court to life in prison. It was his fourth conviction for rape. He then spent the next 23 years housed in three state prisons.
Hi first stop was the notorious Sing Sing Prison. It was there that he then confessed to killing Edythmay. He was transferred to Clinton Prison in Dannemora, NY in 1959. His mug shot reveals an ordinary looking man, but one who looks “creepy,” but that may because it is a mug shot and we know his story. The records show that he was 5’4” and weighed 150 pounds. An intelligence test placed him at the average range IQ level of 106. He was a moderate drinker but did not use drugs.
Immediately upon arriving at Clinton he requested a job with as few other inmates nearby as possible. It was well known that other inmates, even the most hardened killers, detested child molesters and they were subject to beatings or killings. He was a reader and in 1962 he requested to mail some of his books home. He sought permission to purchase a guitar from another inmate in 1964, but the request was denied. Later that year he accused two other inmates named woods and Martinez of stealing a can of salmon, coffee, milk, cigars and 3 cans of spam from his cell. Prison guards who were present during the supposed theft said it did not occur. Dow then requested another prisoner, a jailhouse lawyer, draft a writ for him, but that too was denied.
Those may have been factors in Dow’s last transfer in 1964. This time to Attica. There he was “Discharged by Death” on April 9, 1970, one year before the famous inmate riots there, and exactly 41 years and two days after Edythmay’s body was found.